Originally Published 2004-03-17 12:32:30 Published on Mar 17, 2004
Whatever be the end-game in the ¿Karuna rebellion¿ within the monolithic LTTE, the development may have heralded a process of ¿social justice¿ or social re-engineering¿ as is understood in India ¿ and also come to stay, in a way. To the extent, the ¿Karuna factor¿ may have become unstoppable in the socio-political sense of the term, whatever be the immediate consequence of the rebellion, or its impact on the suspended peace process in Sri Lanka.
Relating to the 'Karuna factor'
Whatever be the end-game in the 'Karuna rebellion' within the monolithic LTTE, the development may have heralded a process of 'social justice' or social re-engineering' as is understood in India - and also come to stay, in a way. To the extent, the 'Karuna factor' may have become unstoppable in the socio-political sense of the term, whatever be the immediate consequence of the rebellion, or its impact on the suspended peace process in Sri Lanka.

If like India, Sri Lanka too came off the 'foreign yoke' with the attainment of Independence in the last Forties, the process led to the rule of the 'brahminical' communities in both nations. In Sri Lanka too, it was the 'chosen brahmins' from among the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority that came to share power in an uncomfortable cohabitation process. Though the cohabitation has ended, the 'brahminical' hold from within the Sinhala community has not ended, though. It is this that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has been seeking to replace, and in doing so, it has dropped its earlier militant approach in favour of a more democratic politico-electoral presence. But then, unlike India, Sri Lanka did not fight for its freedom even in a non-violent way, with the result, there may not have been any 'fruits of freedom' to be shared or frittered away, too early in the day.

In a way, it was the 'Jaffna Tamils' who came to be dubbed the 'brahmins' of Sri Lanka, particularly forming the backbone of the elitist bureaucracy that they seemingly manned and controlled. If it was this that had contributed to the early 'Sinhala bitterness' when 'majoritarianism' became inevitable in a democratic process after the exit of the foreign ruler, it also contributed to the 'standarisation of education'. It was close, if not similar, to the 'reservations' that the Brahmins and other upper castes in India resent, but others welcome to varying degrees.

In the absence of a euphoric and emotive Independence movement to hold the island-nation together in the early years, 'pan-Tamil militancy' came to the fore early on in Sri Lanka, pre-dating the 'anti-reservations' riots in India, by two decades if one considered the pre-LTTE days, as well. It was no different within the Sinhala community, where the JVP militancy was on near-similar lines. As the unfolding events showed, they were only the beginning of a process, not the end thereof. If the Sri Lankan Government could crush the JVP militancy, it was the later-day advent of the LTTE in a very big way that halted the revival of the organisation, and also the concerns and interests it represented within the majority Sinhala community.

Shorn of the temptation to cite 'pan-Tamil nationalism' as an underlying factor, an understanding of the contemporary socio-political history of Tamil Nadu may throw some light into the emerging 'Karuna factor' in Sri Lanka, particularly within the Sri Lankan Tamil community and polity. It is also true of other parts of post-Independence India, including Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, to varying degrees. Tamil Nadu is relevant only to the extent that the white man came here early on, that too to a 'near-virgin' territory, caused by the earlier exit of the Cheras, Cholas, Pandyas and the Pallavas. Thus, he could bring most of what is now Tamil Nadu, and parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala under his rule without shedding much blood, on either side, to a part of the country, which had not seen great wars or disquiet of other kinds for centuries.

The arrival of the British East India Company in what is now Chennai, and its obtaining from the Nawab of Arcot the right to collect revenue at the village-level, provided the educated Brahmin community with a new and modest source of 'court patronage' after centuries of indifference. But then, the non-Brahmin upper castes began fighting for a share before long. It was thus that the Justice Party came into being, as a grouping of non-Brahmin upper castes, fighting for a share in jobs and education in the Madras Presidency.

In between, by taking the freedom movement to the masses, Gandhiji may have delayed the process, but could not, or did not, halt it. It would not have been possible either, after the Justice Party Governments in the Presidency, a predecessor to the short-lived Congress Government of 1937, under the Government of India Act, had introduced Communal Reservations, first in 1921 and modified it three years later.

That way, 'Periyar' E V Ramaswami Naicker, through his 'Self-Respect Movement' of the late Thirties and early Forties, only revived the process - but from where a 'single agenda' Justice Party had left it before being over-run by Gandhiji's freedom movement. His Dravidar Kazhagam came to be identified with the socio-political aspirations of the non-Brahmin, non-upper caste communities, whose interests the Justice Party had not addressed.

It was thus that the DMK, the political offshoot of the Dravidar Kazhagam, and its AIADMK offshoot, came to project and protect the educational and employment concerns of the backward classes and the most backward classes, but only in stages, through a process of political percolation. So much so, in present-day Tamil Nadu, 'caste parties' have come to 'represent' the interest of individual communities, with a clear say in the politico-electoral system.

This has led to the inevitable situation, where various denominations of the Dalit community in Tamil Nadu -- which for the first time came under the unified identify of 'Harijans' as with the rest of the country, when Gandhiji coined the word -- have separate political parties or organisations representing their interests. Today, there is already mention of sub-sects within these individual denominations, too. Thanks to greater enlightenment, caused by education and employment, which also gets reflected constantly in media presentation and representation, the shorter Hindi word 'Dalit', which was unacceptable to the earlier political generation in the State, has gained overnight currency in Tamil.

The situation is no different with other caste groups, though the question would remain if it's correct to encourage such a course, leading to further fragmentation of the society. For instance, the once unified militant backward class community of 'Mukkulathore' may have started talking in three different voices, representing as many denominations. The non-Brahminical upper caste Mudaliar community, which was identified with the Justice Party first, and the early-day leadership of the DMK when founded, too is reacting in different ways at the local-level, again on the denomination-basis.

It is no different with the backward Kongu Vellalar community, which is financially and numerically strong in the prosperous 'Coimbatore belt' of western Tamil Nadu, or any other. In all these cases, the benefits of socio-political recognition and power have been percolating to different levels, laterally and otherwise. With the result, lesser-known, and even lesser understood communities like Mutharayars in south-central Tamil Nadu have begun obtaining political recognition and importance, in some cases even before they had sought it - or, were ready for it.

The situation is near-similar in Uttar Pradesh, or Bihar, or in most other parts of India, which obtained freedom only months ahead of Sri Lanka. Having started off a generation or two late on the route of education-based enlightenment - they had to wait for the advent of Independence for the process to commence - they are seeking to catch up with 'more advanced States' like Tamil Nadu. It is more evident in the political process, where particular parties have come to represent the interests, concerns and the numerical influence of individual castes and communities.

So much so, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, for instance, are neck-deep in the 'near-irreversible' process of percolation of political power. As the events and developments of the past decade and more would show, once the process obtains its own momentum, the percolation, or fragmentation effect - whichever one prefers - too develops a chemistry of its own, halting and re-grouping at every turn. No single party, or group, either at the national or regional level can be blamed for this, or exempted from such charge, if it were one. It was all a process, in which they played their parts. If one went by the Tamil Nadu example, it may not stop here either.

In the Sri Lankan context too, it is this that may be happening already. Of course, such a course pre-supposes status quo of sorts in the context of Sinhala-Tamil relations, but then it is not the Tamils, who alone are going through the churning process. The current politico-electoral avtar of the once radicalised Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which is at times considered the Sinhala equivalent and militant predecessor of the LTTE, may have started off a near-similar process on the other side of the ethnic divide. Even in its militant avtar the JVP represented only the socio-economic interests now it seeks to represent in the political arena, by participating in the democratic process, and contesting elections, this time in the company of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLMC).

The parallel may not end there, though. Take for instance, the 'Muslim factor'. Today, both in India and Sri Lanka, the minority Muslim community lacks a credible political leadership. In both cases again, the system sought to absorb the community, but ended up absorbing only the respective leadership, or marginalise the same. With distinct communal interests coming to be projected by other interest groups, the frustrated Muslim youth have been left to fend for themselves. It is already happening in India, and is threatening to occur in Sri Lanka. The evolving system may seek to absorb the community as a whole, but it remains to be seen how far would it be effective when other caste and community-based interest groups have present and potential leaderships, asserting their rights, real and imaginary.

To the extent, even the issue of 'People of Indian Origin' (PIO), or the 'Plantation Tamils' in the central highlands of Sri Lanka may have acquired a new dimension and immediacy. Time was when the 'indigenous' Tamil community in the North and the East together had left the 'Plantation Tamils' to the mercy of the Sinhala political leadership. This was based more on cultural factors influenced by socio-economic realities. Today, with 'Col' Karuna re-opening the forgotten divide between the Tamils of the North and the East, for whatever reason, the forgotten PIOs may have got a role to play. If nothing else, the possible need for expanding the constitutional process, set in motion by the currently halted peace process, and necessitated by the 'Karuna factor', if not the 'Karuna rebellion', may find scope and purpose for including the forgotten PIOs in the mainstream. Like the Muslims, the PIOs too lack a credible leadership at present, and that could be their problem, too.

In a way, the 'Karuna factor' needs to be read together with JVP's moderation, with signs of 'war-fatigue' setting in both ethnic groups in the island-nation, and also with the rudder-less status of Muslim politics and the community in Sri Lanka. In finding a solution, it is Sri Lanka that could show the way for India, in the sense that a constitutional process in the form of peace negotiations is already under way in that country. In India, the constitutional process has let the socio-political process direct it at every turn. Whether the effects of the opposite is good in comparison may be difficult to discern, in the absence of its test and trial in near-similar circumstances, but such a process is already under way in Sri Lanka. It is however true that even here the constitutional process is influenced by political events and developments, yet it is the constitutional process that may become the bench-mark, if not the guiding force, for the future.

Of course, the temptation now in Sri Lanka could be for every party to continue with the status quo, treating the Ceasefire Accord between the Colombo Government and the LTTE as some kind of a sanction for a 'Line of Control' of sorts, where none existed previously. Of course, the Prabhakaran leadership of the LTTE may not be able to digest the arrival of 'Karuna rebellion', but it could not reverse the process without upsetting the socio-political equilibrium of the past two years - apart from the international community. The equilibrium, in turn, has helped advance the halted and often reversed interests of the Tamil community as a whole. By seeking to upset the apple-cart, the LTTE leadership may prove Karuna right, vis a vis the interests of the Eastern Tamil community. As for Karuna and his group, they would love the status quo more than anyone else, and for obvious reasons.

It is the relative peace and chemistry triggered by this process that may have revived the 'socio-political percolation process', halted on the track by the 'JVP militancy' of the early Seventies, and the subsequent, if not consequent, 'Tamil militancy', particularly since the Eighties. Maybe, the Prabhakaran leadership could succeed in putting down 'Karuna' the man, or the 'military might' that he now represents, or does not represent. Yet, as long as the current peace holds, the socio-political process set in motion by the 'Karuna factor' may have already become irreversible. The more the Tamil community re-enter the political process, which again seems irreversible, the 'percolation process' set in motion by the 'Karuna factor' too may become that much more unstoppable -- though halted, it could be. situation, and Tamil Nadu in the larger Indian context is clear. In Tamil Nadu, as elsewhere in the country, the #146;percolation effect#146; does not suffer from regional distinctions, as between the North and the East of Sri Lanka, or between the #146;Sinhala South#146; and the #146;Tamil North-East#146;, earlier. Or, so it would seem. Yet, it needs to be remembered that in the Tamil Nadu context too, the #146;North-South divide#146; was palpable in the earlier years of the Dravidian social movement, and political birth. Even the #146;anti-Hindi agitation#146; in the Tamil Nadu of the Thirties through the Sixties had its birth in this regional distinction. Today, this #146;regional disparities of the past have given place to #146;regional participation#146; in the national government on the one hand, and to calls and cases for sub-regional power-centres. PMK founder S Ramadoss made out a case in favour of the northern districts, while the Justice S Ratinavel Pandian Commission that went
into the caste riots in the southern districts, attributed the same to economic backwardness and lack of employment in the region.

Elsewhere in India, where economic backwardness and regional aspirations have co-existed, it has given place to new States, or other forms of new and varied adminsitrative units. In the case of Sri Lanka, the #146;percolation#146; may still be in an earlier stage, compared to Tamil Nadu, or the rest of India.
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